US Sea Trials Aid UK Navy — Astute Returns to the U.K.

by: Matthew Potter
March 22, 2012

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Special to Defense Procurement News from Imogen Reed.

UK Royal Navy Submarine HMS Astute returned to British shores earlier this month after a period of US Sea Trials – the most successful to date since it was launched in 1997. HMS Astute is the most powerful and advanced submarine that the UK has ever sent to sea and the first in its series of “Next Generation” machines. For almost five months she has been employed in extensive trials in North America which included trialling and firing her main weaponry for the very first time.

Brief History of HMS Astute

Astute was built at BAE’s Submarine facility in Northern England’s most famous shipbuilding town Barrow-In-Furness eleven years ago and finally launched after a delay of almost forty three months in 2007. The delay was caused in part by budgeting difficulties and issues concerning transferring funds to BAE Systems. She left her home of Barrow for good in 2009 and was finally sent to her new home port of Faslane the same year. She was given her HMS prefix in a ceremony that was presided over by HRH The Duchess of Cornwall.

A Unique Submarine

It is a submarine that will never need refuelling because it is powered by a nuclear reactor and its sonar can track ships that are as far away as 3,000 miles (or 4,380km). Similarly, her missiles have a target range of around 1,200 miles (or 1,930km). In a new technological breakthrough Astute has been built in such a way that it can be reprogrammed in mid flight to shoot missiles in another direction. Additional features on Astute are a digital optical mast system – this will replace the conventional and traditional periscope. It will offer low light and infrared capabilities. It is hoped that this will help the submarine to quickly capture and analyse data which can then be shared with other vessels.

The US Sea Trials

In February 2010 she underwent her first series of sea trials and dives, but it wasn’t until late last year that she began her stay with the US Navy’s Atlantic Undersea and Test Evaluation Centre which is situated in the Bahamas. This test situation was used to trial the submarine’s capability of firing Spearfish torpedoes as well as Tomahawk Missiles. Astute’s first Tomahawks were fired on 15th November 2011 into the US Navy’s Gulf Of Mexico range. All in all, four Tomahawks were fired in the direction of the Eglin Air Force Base – mainly to test for accuracy. Six Spearfish Torpedoes were also fired. These were the first salvo firings of a UK Submarine for more than 15 years. Earlier in February 2012, Astute came face to face with the USS Mexico in the Atlantic Undersea and Test Evaluation Centre for a series of staged war games in which the Heads of both the UK and US Navy met, in what was an historic and unprecedented occasion. Over the course of this tenure with the US she sailed some 16,400 miles (or 26,400km). The US Naval base in King’s Bay, Georgia was also visited and UK Naval Officers were impressed with what they saw. Astute is still very much in her trial period but it is hoped that this experiment and the help proffered by the US Navy will have strengthened and fortified its capabilities.

When it is officially commissioned it is hoped that it will undertake missions including anti-submarine and anti-ship missions, intelligence gathering and supporting land forces. Astute has, for now, returned to its base in Faslane for maintenance. It is hoped that later on during 2012 it will undertake more sea trials.

US Navy Official’s Impressed With Capabilities

Altogether she spent 77 days at sea and was inspected by 18 stars worth of US and UK Naval authority including America’s Chief Of Naval Operations ADM Jonathan Greenert, who has been in post since September last year. US Naval Officers were apparently “blown away” by the capabilities and strengths shown by Astute and felt that the Submarine had got tremendous capability and could only improve with time and more testing. The success of this test mission has not only strengthened the UK’s Naval Capabilities, but it has also shown the bond between the US and UK and their ability to work together in the name of defence if needed is stronger than ever.

Photo from U.S. Navy Imagery’s Flickr Photostream.

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